Sleep-training one child is tricky enough, let alone getting two little ones on the same nighttime schedule. Baby sleep expert Ingrid Prueher helps one family find a solution.

Portrait of sullen young girl on her parents bed
Credit: Emely/Getty Images

Getting one child to be a good sleeper is tough enough. But getting two kids to sleep on the same schedule? That's an even bigger—and more tiring!—challenge for some families.

When I first met parents Elisa and Vinny, neither of their two children—Emily, age 5, and Shane, 1 1/2—had a bedtime routine that worked for the family. With Emily, one parent had to lie with her in bed until she fell asleep (and then gingerly sneak out of the room!). Shane was either falling asleep in a baby carrier with dad or while nursing with mom. Although his crib was in their bedroom, he wasn't using it, and instead was sleeping in his parents' bed.

Both Elisa and Vinny wanted their children to be able to go to sleep independently. They also move Shane from their bed into his crib. My goal was to empower the children with structure and independence—a situation that would benefit the entire family. When a child learns to put herself to sleep at the beginning of the night, she is more likely to be able to put herself to sleep if she wakes up during the night.

The first step in making this (or any sleep training program) a success is to make consistency and routine a priority. Any sleep training method needs to be implemented for a minimum of two weeks, which means social events may need to be put on hold.

With Emily, we implemented the chair method. Elisa could still read to Emily in bed, but once lights were out Emily would move to a chair that had been placed beside the bed but not facing the child. The parent should stay in the chair until the child falls asleep, but not engage with the child in any way. Every couple of days, the chair should be moved farther away from the bed until, eventually, it is in the hallway. This method empowers the child so she learns not to feel anxious when she is alone.

With Shane, the goal was to teach him to fall asleep on his own in the safety of his crib. Initially, Elisa needed to move out of her bedroom and let Vinny sleep with Shane alone. The reason? If Shane woke up during the night, he would look to mom for comfort—so she needed to be in another room.

After about two weeks, Elisa moved back into the room and she and Vinny worked together to get Shane to sleep in his crib and fall asleep on his own. To do this, we implemented the hug-it-out method. When it was time for Shane to go to sleep, one of the parents placed him in his crib while he was awake and hugged him. If Shane cried or was upset, either Vinny or Elisa would go to the crib and hug him again while he remained in the crib. The key here is to leave the child in the crib so he does not think it is a place he needs to be rescued from.

The next two weeks were challenging, as the entire family adjusted to new sleep environments, but Elisa and Vinny provided the consistency that Emily and Shane needed. The children began to fall asleep on their own—Emily in her bed and Shane in his crib. And Elisa and Vinny were very happy to have their bed to themselves again.